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The Winslow Boy
Witness for the Prosecution

The Winslow Boy (1948) (1999)

Written and directed by David Mamet, based on the stage play by Terence Rattigan, this is a classic and timeless legal drama, based on a true story, that is beautifully filmed and acted. In England just before the First World War, a young naval cadet is accused of stealing money from a classmate, and expelled from his naval college. His family, convinced he is innocent, hires a lawyer (unforgettably played by Jeremy Northam) to challenge the boy's expulsion, prove his innocence, and redeem the family honor. In pursuing the case through the military court system and then to the civil court system, with an unprecedented challenge to the Crown, the family's fortunes evaporate; a daughter's engagement collapses under the strain; and the entire country becomes obsessed with the case of the Winslow Boy. (In real life, the accused was Catholic, which had its own dynamic, but the play and the movie wisely avoid this issue.)

The cross-examination of the young boy (convincingly played by Guy Edwards) in the lawyer's chambers is wonderful. The hinted romance between the lawyer and the boy's sister (played by Mamet's wife in real life, Rebecca Pidgeon), as well as the relationship between the parents (Nigel Hawthorne and Gemma Jones), are compelling and realistic. Matthew Pidgeon, Rebecca's brother in real life, plays her brother in the film. This film starts slow, but builds to a fulfilling conclusion that renews your faith in the justice system. So many advances in society and the law are made by people who just won't give up, even though good sense and their wallets make it reasonable for them to do so.

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Witness for the Prosecution (1957)

This wonderful movie, directed by Billy Wilder from the Agatha Christie stage play, focuses on a British lawyer, Sir Wilfred Robarts (Charles Laughton), who is not getting any younger, when he is called upon to defend a man (Tyrone Power) accused of murder. His wife, a German national (vividly played by Marlene Dietrich) decides to testify --- against her husband, as a witness for the prosecution. At the end of the movie, text on the screen appears, asking the viewer not to divulge the plot twists, so I won't. But this film does prove why Agatha Christie mysteries are eternal, and why Marlene Dietrich is one of the greatest actresses of all time. The lawyer, as in real life, is just an accessory to the drama.

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